Survivors protest outside Bank Leumi

Demonstrators demand return of assets to thousands of Holocaust victims and their heirs.

holocaust survivors 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
holocaust survivors 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Dozens of Holocaust survivors and their families demonstrated outside Bank Leumi's main offices in Tel Aviv on Thursday, demanding the return of assets to thousands of Holocaust victims and their heirs. Survivor Mordechai Arieli said the bank's management was impervious to their demands and accused it of "foot-dragging." Kadima MK Ze'ev Bielski said that there were about 4,000 accounts with some NIS 300 million that belonged to Holocaust victims. He said the bank was continuing to profit from the money and was waiting for a time when there would be no claimants left. He noted that some 35 Holocaust survivors die every day. Bank Leumi issued a statement, calling the demonstration "a shameful and manipulative use of a national symbol dear to us all." It said the conduct of the Company for the Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets bordered on the astonishing and called for the intervention of the authorities and the state comptroller. The bank claimed that the company was trying to cover up its severe blunders, including not making good enough use of the NIS 20m. transferred to its coffers by Leumi and said "that it is not doing anything with it, apart from spending hundreds of thousands of shekels on public relations." Last month, in an unprecedented move, the company filed a NIS 305m. lawsuit against Bank Leumi over the assets. The legal action against Israel's largest bank follows years of fruitless negotiations to reclaim the funds that the restitution group says were deposited by Holocaust victims in thousands of accounts prior to World War II. The NIS 305m. being claimed in the lawsuit, which was filed at the Jerusalem District Court, was deposited by Holocaust victims in more than 3,500 Bank Leumi accounts, group spokeswoman Meital Noy said. The Holocaust victims had invested in the Jewish Colonial Trust, which was founded at the end of the 19th century by the Zionist movement to advance financial development in the Land of Israel. The trust, which was in charge of banking operations and of financial projects in Palestine, founded the bank that became Bank Leumi following Israel's independence.